The Difference Between Cabaret and Burlesque

If you like exotic dancing, comedy, and variety shows, you probably know about cabaret and burlesque. However, you may not have known that these two terms are actually used for two different forms of art and entertainment. There is so much misinformation regarding their history and their true purpose, which is why most people associate them with something scandalous or pornographic. 

So, what’s the difference between cabaret and burlesque, and which performance will you like the most? Find out below! 

What Is Cabaret?

Back in the 16th century, cabarets took off as small entertainment venues in France. They were quite similar to pubs but different from the average village tavern. In fact, cabarets were a bit more upscale. They offered a mix of entertainment with dining or drinking. As time went by, those early cabarets became popular among artists. They turned into hotspots for the underground culture in France and the rest of Europe.  

Paris’ bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre is the birthplace of modern cabaret. Its first performance venue was Le Chat Noir. But, when it comes to cabaret history, the Moulin Rouge club is sure the most popular. This legendary club opened in 1889. Its shows featured raunchy comedy songs, political satire, dancing, and provocative costumes. 

Today, cabaret has taken many forms. Most of them include variety shows or modern-day vaudeville. It’s full of monologues, stand-up comedy, drag shows, original music, etc. Interest in those kinds of entertainment saw a new rise in popularity in the 1990s. Cabaret has been making consistent comebacks since then. Also, the Moulin Rouge is still open today and has become a hugely popular tourist attraction.

Today, you usually visit night clubs or dance halls to see a modern cabaret show. The events feature singing, dancing, lip-syncing, mime, and various other types of performance art. 

What Is Burlesque? 

Burlesque has a broad meaning, but many often mistake it for cabaret. The term is derived from “burla,” the Italian word for “joke” or “mockery.” It has roots in literature, and it became famous around Europe in the 1600s. However, burlesque doesn’t only appear in performance art. You’ll find it in various Victorian-era art forms, such as literature and music. 

When it comes to burlesque performances, they became massively popular in England in the 19th century. Compared to cabaret, the shows were actually performed in theaters, music halls, and other venues with separate stages for performances. See these top Burlesque performers.

Back then, the song/dance events were family-friendly, but burlesque is quite different today. In the past, burlesque shows mainly included comedy (slapstick humor), music, skits, and dancing. What’s more, the majority of shows offered a humorous take on popular plays, opera, and ballet. 

However, burlesque shows quickly went out of style in Europe and England. But, in the 1930s, burlesque reemerged in the United States. It was influenced by the rise of stars like Josephine Baker. American burlesque shows were much more naughty, though. They were similar to minstrel shows but with striptease. 

Just like with cabaret, burlesque was revived in the 1990s. We refer to this as neo-burlesque. It includes comedy or drama performances with modern dance and live music. The experience is incredibly unique because it offers artistic striptease and beautiful models, along with glamor and flashiness. Also, burlesque is famous for its fashion style. It is instantly recognizable and includes corsets, stockings, hats, feathered clothes/accessories, extravagant and lush hairdos, etc. 

Are There Any Differences?

So why do we constantly put these two in the same category? Well, they are both shows, artistic performances, and entertainment. Plus, the audience usually sits at cozy tables and can order drinks or food. The main difference is that, in modern burlesque shows, you could get a corset, hat, or stocking thrown in your lap! Of course, that would not happen in traditional burlesque shows back in the 1800s. 

After the 1990s, we started to use burlesque interchangeably with striptease art, while modern cabaret still retained some of its vintage elements. Cabaret can even include juggling, magic, acrobatics, along with other variety acts. It’s mostly based on non-striptease dance and non-sexual elements, but it still has some characteristics of burlesque. Also, modern burlesque shows are not exactly identical to what you get in your run-of-the-mill titty bar. They are classier, more exotic, and they truly focus on striptease as an art show form. That means the shows are not centered for a typically male audience. 

What’s more, modern burlesque performers are trained dancing professionals. Many cherish their work for its feminist and artistic statement. That means there are no lap dances or private transactions that you could arrange in a standard strip club. To add to the confusion, cabaret venues can organize burlesque acts. 

Both Are Worth Watching

If you want to enjoy some cocktails with your friends and get a few laughs, a quality cabaret show will not disappoint. On the other hand, if you prefer to watch exotic dancing and admire its subtle erotic elements, burlesque is the way to go. Whatever the case, both of those art forms require respect and decency from the audience. Therefore, you shouldn’t disregard the proper etiquette, and you should mind your manners. 

Always remember to do these proper etiquettes when watching Burlesque.

For example, if you’re attending a burlesque show, remember that the dancers are not typical strippers. Also, they are by no means prostitutes. Conversely, if you attend a cabaret, remember that most events are family-friendly. Thus, you should behave and try not to make rude remarks to the performers because there could be children in the audience. 

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve settled the whole cabaret vs. burlesque debate, you can decide which show you would like the most. So have a great time and enjoy yourself!